August 27, 2003

Pinup Profs; or, The 'Airbrushed Fantasy' of the College Brochure

1. They are all located in New England in the fall. That includes colleges in New Mexico and above the Arctic Circle, where hundreds of multicolored deciduous trees are shipped by FedEx during this yearlong season....

5. Their faculty members use extravagant hand gestures.
Photographers must often interrupt classes in American Sign Language to capture these images. Or maybe the profs are conducting groups of music students who have forgotten their instruments.

-- Paul Many, The Wonderful World of College Brochures

Here's an amusing little piece by someone who lists the top ten things he's learned about college by reading college brochures.

I'll add another one:

The teaching is done by bearded, tweed-wearing sages who inhabit the comfortable clutter of book-lined offices.

We might think of these instructors as the "pinup profs" of academic marketing.

Of course, there is a serious question here, which has to do with the persistence of the tweedy, autumn-in-New-England ideal in the face of the kinds of changes that are discussed here. Several commenters have suggested that the problems faced by the humanities can be traced in part to consumer demand: "I think that the demand being made by the public is not a change of emphasis from research to teaching," writes Bill Richards, "but rather from providing a 'well-rounded' education (whatever that means) to an education that provides practical value in the job marketplace by providing the holder of that education with a competitive edge at hiring/promotion time." I do think there is something to this. At the same time, I have to wonder, If students are increasingly interested in another kind of education, why do colleges still market themselves by invoking the older ideal?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:00 AM | Comments (27)

August 25, 2003

20, 000 Leagues Under

I’m going to make a Jules Verne prediction for the future. In the next 10 to 15 years, many of the mid-level colleges are going close and reopen as cyber schools. The University of Phoenix has been very successful at it. The technical colleges have already started shifted their courses from the classroom to the monitor. It’s much more profitable. No campus upkeep. Less faculty. Large classes. Students also like it, because they can fit their courses into their work schedule.

In twenty years, a traditional college education with dorm rooms and intramural sports will only be for the very rich. Harvard will always be Harvard. Yale will always be Yale. But Fairleigh Dickinson University in Paramus, New Jersey is going to shut their doors and put in some high speed internet cables. The rich will have their schools, but everyone else will telecommute.

-- Laura, "Wilted Ivy"

These Days, I am so immersed in early Modern Books that I'm tempted to capitalize every Noun and every other Adjective, and to adorn my Text with Italics that are seemingly applied at Random.

Anyway, I'm not really here. But if I were here, I would comment on this latest Gem by Laura at Apt11D. Instead, I will simply say, in Classic blogger Fashion, Read the whole Thing.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:27 PM | Comments (39)

August 24, 2003

Had we but world enough, and time

I'm trying to meet a publishing deadline, and time's wingèd chariot is trying to overtake me. So expect little to no blogging for the next week or so (unless I get caught up or even ahead, but this is extremely, I mean this is laughably, unlikely).

"How goes the enemy"? used to mean (among other things), "What time is it?" I think this meaning should be revived.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:40 AM | Comments (5)

August 19, 2003

I'm Finally on the Cutting Edge of an Online Computing Trend

A new strain of one of the most virulent e-mail viruses ever spread quickly worldwide Tuesday morning, causing fresh annoyance to users worn out by last week's outbreak of the Blaster worm.

The new virus, named 'Sobig.F' by computer security companies, attacks Windows users via e-mail and file-sharing networks. It also deposits a Trojan horse, or hacker back door, that can be used to turn victims' PCs into senders of spam e-mail.

-- Riva Richmond, "New Computer Virus Clogs E-Mail Inboxes"

Today I received no less than four of the above-described emails. And the email addresses all looked legit. Indeed, one of them came from someone (I can't believe anyone at the U of Chicago would be capable of such mischief. Okay, there may be one or two people, but then, I can't believe they would be stupid enough to use their uni accounts. So perhaps the virus had attacked a U of Chicago account and was then using that account to send out the evil spam?)

Anyway, though I don't know much, I knew enough not to follow the instructions to "Please see attached file for details." Sorry spammers, but my dance card is full: I'm still cleaning up after the Blaster Worm. By the way, I scanned the emails, they were all four of them infected with this Sobig virus.

I blame Ogged for this. Yesterday he put out a call for more vigilante viruses in the hope of seeing more virus battles. Ogged, can't you just watch some Cops reruns or something?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:23 PM | Comments (19)

August 18, 2003

Blast that Worm!

I just got a little popup box on my screen, a "Symantec AntiVirus Notification." The highlights (or lowlights):

Event: Virus Found!

Virus Name: W32.Blaster.Worm

File: C:\WINDOWS\system32\TFTP1400

Action taken: Clean failed: Quarantine succeeded: Access denied.

So, uh, just what is under quarantine, and where? And how worried should I be?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:44 PM | Comments (8)

"A Brad DeLong Moment"

This week's recipient of the Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) forgets to thank God, the academy and her family, but makes up for these oversights with what she calls a "Brad DeLong moment."

"Whenever I hear Elaine Showalter speak on the role of the humanities Ph.D.," writes Matilde in the comments to "Weeky IA Award," "I have a very Brad DeLong moment - 'what'? I'm never sure what I find more ridiculously appalling:

1. The notion that the study of literature and history diminishes the need to have dignity in employment and food in the belly of one's children.
2. The implication that long solitary hours devoted to study and writing in a tiny specialty, alternated with crippling criticism and political shenanigans from a committee of elders that has complete power over your career prospects and future income, combined with a long period of delayed consumption, are effective tools to promote a high inner quality of life.
3. The insinuation that persons without a Ph.D. in the humanities lack the training to obtain a satisfyingly complex inner life.

A wonderful comment, and one which raises a question of obvious topical interest and of potentially global significance: has the phrase "Brad DeLong moment" been trademarked?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:49 PM | Comments (4)

Medical Residents' Antitrust Suit

The nation's medical establishment has grown increasingly anxious about an antitrust suit contending that residents are forced to participate in a system that ensures they work long hours and receive low pay.

-- Neil A. Lewis, "Medical Establishement Hopes to Thwart Residents' Lawsuit"

Today's New York Times carries an interesting item on an antitrust suit filed by several young doctors. The plaintiffs maintain that the National Resident Matching Program (aka Match) "keeps salaries artificially low — the annual pay for residents is about $40,000 and varies only marginally regardless of region or speciality — and crushes any competition that might force teaching hospitals to offer better conditions like shorter working hours." The defendants (the Times describes the "principal defendants" as "medical schools and teaching hospitals" but without specifying how many are involved -- my impression is that it involves very many) maintain that the suit "has no merit" and have filed a motion to dismiss. But though they "express confidence that they would prevail in court," the Times reports, they

are so worried that in recent weeks they have asked their allies in the Senate to enact legislation that would derail the suit, inoculating them from damages that might otherwise run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

That sounds like a rather dubious line of defence: your case has no merit under the existing law, therefore we must change the existing law. Toward the end of the article, the Times notes that it is very "rare for Congress to intervene once litigation is under way, though it did so in 1995 to protect charities that were being sued for colluding in setting rates on donated annuities."

I don't know enough either about antitrust legislation or about the Match program to have a firm opinion one way or another as to whether this lawsuit is a good idea. It seems a bold move, and I have to wonder whether they can pull it off. The plantiffs are "trying to have the suit made a class action, meaning that it would apply to any person who graduated from medical school in the four years before it was filed, four years being the maximum under the statute of limitations for antitrust violations." This will be no easy feat, and the hospitals and schools will obviously use every tool at their disposal to fight it every step of the way. And though the article has a lot of say about the defendants' attempts to stop the suit, it doesn't give any indication of how many residents and former residents are behind the plaintiffs. If the case does make it to court (it was filed in May 2002 and is currently before a federal district judge in DC, who has not yet ruled on the defendants' motion to dismiss), the plaintiffs will have a tough time playing David to the medical establishment's Goliath. Federal court litigation is extremely expensive and time-consuming: they will need a lot of support, and a lot of money.

I can't help noticing that one of the defendants' arguments sounds strikingly familiar (and to my ears, rings similarly hollow): "The industry's defense of that system has long been that a residency is not a job per se but instead a continuation of medical education in which the resident ought to be entirely immersed." The apprenticeship line, which is now most often invoked to defend the labor practices of systems that don't look anything like ye merrie olde guilds that once employed people who could fairly be described as apprentices. There are of course many entry-level and junior-level jobs that involve a good deal of on-the-job training and further education. They are jobs nonetheless: "job" and "training/education" are not mutually exclusive categories. My position on this issue: if it's not "a job per se," then neither should any money received be deemed "income per se," and you shouldn't have to report and pay taxes on your earnings. If you get a T-4 slip, you are working for pay at a real job, no matter how much, or how little, you are learning (and also, of course, no matter how much, or how little, you are earning).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:39 AM | Comments (16)

August 17, 2003

Emergency Preparedness

Canada used to have a government office called Emergency Preparedness Canada, which is now the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness/Bureau de la protection des infrastructures essentielles et de la protection civile. I don't know why, but that "emergency prepardedness" thing always struck me as funny. It sounds like such a parody of the bureaucratic impulse.

Nevertheless. The lesson learned from the blackout: we (meaning our little nuclear family of three) need to get our act together in the emergency preparedness department.

A battery-operated radio is a good start, but how about lots of extra batteries conveniently stored in a readily accessible area? Having to search through layers of junk piled (or rather, carelessly tossed at random to create something like piles) in a deep and dark utility cupboard -- and with a toddler who wants to help -- is not good emergency prepardedness. Anyway, our radio takes 6 batteries. This is not such a good idea: if one of the batteries dies, how are you going to know which one? you may not have time or you may not have enough light to check all possible configurations in order to isolate the dead battery. Wouldn't it better to have a radio that required only two, or maybe four, batteries?

We need a serious flashlight, not some some piece of junk that looks and acts like a children's toy. And of course more (readily accessible) batteries for the serious flashlight. And we should have more canned food on hand. Some of that UHT milk that you can store without refrigeration for up to 6 months might also be a good idea (yes, it sounds weird, and it probably is, but we're talking emergency here; which would you rather give your child: strange heat-treated milk or no milk at all?).

We have a bottle of acetaminophen and a bottle of ibuprofen in our medicine cabinet -- and the dates have expired on both bottles. Please. There is no excuse for this. We do have bandages and gauze and rubbing alcohol and antibacterial ointment (though not all in one place), and I think we may even have a pair of those small scissors that you're supposed to have in your first aid kit. Not that we have anything that could fairly be described as a first aid kit. And I couldn't tell you where those scissors are, which means that, for emergency purposes, we may not have a pair of those scissors. So we need to make up a first aid kit, with all essentials stored in one (again, readily accessible) container.

In fact, and fortunately enough, we didn't really need any of the above (a few minutes after losing power I quickly stored enough cold milk in a cooler pack so that my son could have milk that evening and the next morning; I did find 6 radio batteries in the deep, dark utility cupboard; and we didn't need painkillers). And we were without power for only 13 hours, which was an inconvience but not an emergency (though my husband was seriously inconvenienced: he had to walk home from work, it took him over 3 hours). But what if we had to go several days without power? or perhaps without water? As I was frantically searching for the cooler pack and the batteries and etc, I realized that we really were not organized in the emergency preparedness department. I'm not talking duct tape, here. Just a few commonsense preparations and precautions.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:22 AM | Comments (10)

August 16, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Matilde for a nice summary of the predicament of the nonacademic job searcher (comment to "Class and the Academy"):

Cumos' article certainly does illustrate very well how difficult the transition from humanities Ph.D. to nonacademic employment can be. It's hard enough at 22 to exit college to find only menial work that you could have gotten without the degree. To find yourself in this position in your thirties, after so much more school, when your peer group is well into careers and families -- it's a bitter pill. I'm sure Elaine Showalter would argue that Chris' return on his education is an improved inner life while operating that weedwhacker, but reading his story just makes me all the more angry about the 'winner-take-all' state of the humanities professions.

Well said, Matilde. Your check is not in the mail, but luckily I am in possession of a rich inner life, which wealth I am happy to share with my readers.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:41 PM | Comments (3)

August 13, 2003

Conference Culture

I recently discovered a new weblog by another academic -- and another mother who knows what it's like to lug a large baby in a stroller up and down the NYC subway steps (permalink may be bloggered; scroll to Friday, August 08). Indeed, it sounds like she lugs two children up and down those steps. Laura, I salute you.

In her most recent entry, Laura offers some hypotheses concerning the upcoming APSA conference that she plans to attend:

1. Even though this is a political science conference, I will hear no one discuss the war in Iraq, the coming election in CA, or gay marriages.
2. The handful of women at the conference will be wearing baggy suits with elastic waists and large ethnic jewelry.
3. None of the women with tenure track jobs will have children.
4. I will meet more people without jobs than with jobs.
5. Most will be too fearful to leave the convention center to hang out in Philadelphia.

She is soliciting additional "educated guesses." So let me add one that relates to the annual American Historical Association conference:

The desperate jobseekers will be readily identifiable: they are the ones who are noticeably, if uncomfortably, better- (or least more formally) dressed.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:41 AM | Comments (17)

Class and the Academy

Does anyone in academe wonder what happens to Ph.D.'s who don't become an assistant professor at Midwestern Research University or at one of its lesser competitors? The standard answer is that they carve out a niche in an alternative career. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation swells with pride at the success of these go-getters. The Ph.D., it turns out, can catapult one into the managerial elite.

But what about those Ph.D.'s with no real experience, the ones who have trudged through a swamp of menial jobs?

-- Chris Cumo, Blue Collar Ph.D.

Chris Cumo is not only "weary of the poor job market in academe" but also tired "of the incessant chatter that envelops it." Despite the "hand-wringing," he writes, "nothing changes:"

Every year new Ph.D.'s face the same ghastly odds of landing a tenure-track job. Every year bright young men and women grow old as rejection letters deluge their mailbox and erase their dreams.

What happens to PhDs who don't find academic employment? That's a question I've asked more than once at this weblog (most recently, in the entry entitled "PhD and Nonacademic Careers: Information Underload," with some followup at "Why do People Teach as Adjuncts?"). In this, his latest Chronicle column (also see his Out of Academe), Cumo approaches the question through the lens of class. In so doing, he raises an issue about which, I believe, most academics prefer to remain silent. It is all very well to adopt class as an analytical tool for exploring and explaining the world beyond the academy (either in a unitary fashion, or as part of the trinity of race/class/gender). But there has been remarkably little written about class within the academy, or at least very little in relation to those who aspire to join the ranks of the professoriat.

I think I might reframe Cumo's question "what about those Ph.D.'s with no real experience?" -- or at least, I think I would place the emphasis on a related question. One message I take from my reading of the nonacademic job search literature: working one's connections and building one's network is at least as important as figuring out how to transfer one's "skill set." Which raises the question, "what about those PhDs with no real connections?" (which question was raised by several readers in the coments to "The Nonacademic Job Search: Wealth and of Resources"). One answer to this question can be found in Cumo's column.


Russell Arben Fox has posted a thoughtful response to Chris Cumo's essay. Well worth reading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:48 AM | Comments (31)

August 12, 2003

Invisible Adjunct™

Inspired by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Network, which claims to have trademarked "Unfair and Unbalanced" "Fair and Balanced" to describe its coverage of the news, I hereby claim that Invisible Adjunct™ has been trademarked to describe coverage of the academy, and further declare my intention of duly registering Invisible Adjunct™ with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (at which point I would be entitled to use the ® symbol). In the unlikely event that another citizen of the blogosphere tries to use Invisible Adjunct™ to designate either a blog or a blogger, please be advised that I will immediately file suit.

NOTE: Edited 14 August 2003 (edited material is in italics) as per suggestion by MF in the comments to this entry.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:34 PM | Comments (9)

August 11, 2003

A Reader Objects to my Posting Policies

In a new comment to my "Policies on Posting Comments" entry, Michelle raises an objection to my posting policies:

These rules of 'civility' are a clear effort to shield direct shots to your stupidity.

Thank you for your feedback, Michelle. And now here's a little suggestion for your own edification: if you stopped putting the word in scare quotes, you might learn the meaning of the term civility.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:34 PM | Comments (7)

August 10, 2003

I Was Early, the Train Was Late

Which meant I had to spend almost two hours waiting at New York's Penn Station. I couldn't actually leave the station: I didn't know when exactly the train might arrive, but I did know that my husband would be disembarking with a two-year old boy, a heavy suitcase, and an even heavier car seat (which car seat was rescued from our car, which car up and died this weekend, which is why they had to take the train...). Needless to say, I felt duty-bound to remain on hand to meet and greet the intrepid travellers.

So I browsed through 2 bookstores, 1 drugstore (here I focused on the dizzying array of hair care products -- my husband says I have a shampoo fetish, and he's absolutely right), 3 different (though identical) Hudson's News newsstands, and a couple of exceptionally tacky gift shops. I've always wondered: what is the point of these gift shops, located as they are in the grimy underground hell that is Penn Station? Does anyone ever actually enter these sad excuses for retail commerce? I now know the answer.

I bought a fruit salad from a deli. Half an hour later I bought a pretzel from a snackbar. And half an hour later still, I almost broke down and bought a Krispy Kreme donut. But those donuts don't look right to me: they're too round and puffy, they just don't meet my idea of what a donut should look like (later, much later, when we walked by that Krispy Kreme kiosk on our way out of the station, my son pointed to the donuts and said "Bagels!"). So I resisted the temptation to commit a breach of loyalty against Dunkin Donuts (actually, my first loyalty is to Tim Horton's, but I work with what's available).

I found an interesting title at one of the two bookstores that I browsed: Pam, a biography of Pamela Lee Anderson which purports to offer an "inside look" at the "sexy life" of "the hottest woman in the world." I like that "sexy life" bit: she's so sexy, her very life is sexy. But wasn't there talk of domestic violence? I thought I read something somewhere about a restraining order? Sexy. While the store has a "Biography" section, I found Pam in "Fiction:" I'm not willing to say that the book was misfiled.

The romance of the rails is long since over. (Well, you knew that, of course, and I guess I knew it too.)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:56 PM | Comments (21)

What's a Wiki?

I have a few half-finished blog entries, but at the moment no time to finish them. I'm immersed in a project for which the deadline looms large.

Late last night, I found myself in a wired state that I really try to avoid now that I have a toddler: too wide awake to sleep and yet too mentally numb to work. Having spent the day on the details of my project, I googled one of the central figures of said project. I wasn't expecting to discover anything new or exciting about this author (as my superego put it, 'What is the point? You are wasting valuable sleep time with your googling: Get offline and get to bed!'), and my google search answered this lack of expectation. I did, however, come across something interesting: the second or third search result led me to an entry at the Wikipedia, "a multilingual project to create a complete and accurate open content encyclopedia."

Now, when it comes to technology, computers, software, and the like, I think it's fair (not to mention accurate) to say that I'm not exactly on the cutting edge. My typical response to a new term such as "wiki" is to vaguely wonder what it means, and then carry on in a state of ignorance, if not bliss. I probably won't make a real effort to find out more unless and until it's right in my face.

I still don't know what "wiki" means, exactly. But I now have a general idea of what this wiki business is all about. The interesting thing, of course, is that anyone can post content, and anyone can edit or revise anyone else's posted content.

Which brings me to the Wikipedia entry to which my googling led. The problem with this entry was not that it offered a potted summary that merely skimmed the surface. After all, what's an encyclopedia for? No, the problem was that it contained several egregious errors of fact. To cite one example, my author, who wrote an influential work on criticism (by which he roughly meant what would come to be known as literary criticism), was credited with publishing a work on cynicism.

Thus ensued an innner dialogue between my superego and, well, my other superego:

Superego 1: It's late, you're tired, and you have to get up early to do some real work. Get off the net and get to bed.
Superego 2: But this entry is all wrong. I think I should fix it.
Superego 1: Are you crazy? You don't even know what a "wiki" is. But whatever it is, nobody could take this thing seriously as a repository of fact, and neither should you.
Superego 2: But some people might take it seriously. It comes up number 2 or 3 on a google search. And apparently most undergraduates now begin (and many of them end) their research on the Internet. Some student will across this entry and write a term paper which cites a nonexistent title on cynicism.
Superego 1: That's not your concern. And anyway, you're applying a different set of standards to this wiki-thingy. If they wanted the entries written by those with specialized knowledge in the relevant areas, they wouldn't have open content. Your pedantry just misses the point. This is why people hate academics. Get the hell offline and get to bed.

Well, Supergo 2 won out: I just couldn't exit that page without fixing a couple of factual errors. But after reading a few related entries (and not editing the content, because here Superego 1 prevailed, and I did get off the Internet and get myself to bed), I have forbidden myself from visiting the Wikipedia.

Anyway, I suppose the idea is that if enough people participate, eventually the entries will be revised and refined into accuracy? It's an interesting concept, but I have to say I am wee bit sceptical.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:29 AM | Comments (8)

August 08, 2003

Go Amanda!

Best of luck to Amanda of Household Opera, who defends her dissertation this morning.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:13 AM | Comments (8)

August 06, 2003

UMass President Resigns over Brother's Ties to the Mob

Life imitates the Sopranos:

The AP reports that University of Massachusetts President William M. Bulger has resigned "after months of mounting pressure over his role in the federal investigation of his fugitive mobster brother."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:56 PM | Comments (18)

August 05, 2003

Academic Reality TV Poll

Inspired by Bob at Unfogged, a number of people have put forth proposals for a reality TV show based on the trials and tribulations, not to mention the thrills, chills and spills, of life within the academy. So let's say we wanted to sell the concept of an academic reality TV show to the network brass at a major media conglomerate (yes, of course this is beyond silly; but summer is not quite over, so just play along, okay?). Which of the following proposed programs do you find most promising? I'm not sure what the selection criteria might be, but obviously the show would have to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and ideally would do so while also resonating powerfully (if painfully) with academics themselves.

1. PhD Island. Original concept by Bob of Unfogged, who describes the program as follows:

Ten or so (somewhat attractive) men and women in their early twenties, maybe with a token older contestant, endure a numbingly drawn-out series of trials and humiliations. These include hostile dissertation-committee meetings, labyrinthine statistical methodologies, and ramen. Some contestants are eliminated along the way -- we watch their tearful exits with the comforting knowledge that by the end of the show, it is the survivors who will envy the escapees...There will be romances and sexual liasons. Alliances, rivalries, sacrifices, even a betrayal or two -- and we'll see it all! In the end, the contestants who survive the early trials must compete with each other for the ultimate prize: a tenure-track assistant professorship at a pretty-good college in a not-bad city. To win, each preens and performs before panels of disdainful judges whose own talents are ambiguous but unchallenged. One winner is chosen -- a contestant who is probably perfectly deserving, as would have been any of the others. And like being engaged to Alex Michel, the prize is actually an unspectacular one, to which everybody but the contestants is pretty ambivalent.

2. Adjunct Survivor: Big City. Original concept by Eric Marshall, who describes the program as follows:

Casting Call: Producers of new reality television show, Adjunct Survivor: Big City, seek highly educated (Ph.D. preferred), highly skilled men and women willing to teach four courses per semester (or more)—any subject—for below living wage. Excellent benefits not included. Must have own car or transit pass. Internal Revenue Service mileage rate not provided. Equal opportunity exploiter: those seeking academic freedom need not apply.

3. Academic Fifth Wheel. Original concept by KF of Planned Obsolescence, who describes the program as follows:

I'm kind of thinking of an academic version of 'Fifth Wheel' -- two recent PhDs and two search committees meet up for interviews and a drunken ride around town in a weird disco bus. After the first segment, the PhDs switch search committees; after the second segment, each candidate (and committee) confides in the audience about how they think it's going. Then, in the third segment, the "fifth wheel" is introduced, an academic hottie of massive proportions. Will it be a recent Yale PhD with a Cambridge UP book contract, seeking to lure the attentions of both search committees? Or will it be a third search committee from a well-heeled Major U., seeking to poach the other committees' candidates? And who goes home alone?

4. Academic Fear Factor. Original Concept by Thomas H. Benton, who describes the program as follows:

You are a second-year grad student in English. There's only one TA job available: "Advanced Sanscrit." Get high student evaluations or be eliminated.

You are about to defend your dissertation. Who will be the outraged wild-card committee member? H. Milton Bowers, the 96-year-old Medievalist, Jean-Paul Metier, the postmodern theorist, or Barbie Clitoris, the feminist performance artist.

The department is pleased to offer you a tenure-track position, but first you must eat . . .

Vote now for your program of choice!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:26 PM | Comments (7)

"Stronger Together:" Why the Tenurable and the Nontenurable Should Make Common Cause

We are witnessing the transformation of our academic work and our universities. Historically, university administrators have used contract positions to fulfill specific, short-term needs. But in the past decade, administrators have increasingly chosen to use casual labour for ongoing staffing requirements -- exploiting contract academic staff, their students, and their colleagues.

The inappropriate use of contract appointments is an academic freedom issue, a professional issue, a workload issue, an instructional issue, a curriculum issue, a governance issue, a research issue and a collective bargaining issue.

-- Canadian Association of University Teachers, Stronger Together: One Association for All[PDF file]

I've just across the above, which helps clarify my scepticism over adjunct unionization. Though the document refers to the situation in Canadian universities, there are enough similarities between the two systems to warrant attention to the CAUT statement. Indeed, CAUT relies on American data to warn against the threat to academic freedom posed by the ongoing casualization of academic faculty:

About 43% of American faculty are part-time. Of the 57% who are full-time, about 28% are on limited-term contract. That means only 41% of American faculty are tenured or tenure-track. The majority of those will be retiring in the next decade. It appears that within ten to fifteen years, unless present trends are reversed, only about 20% of American faculty will be tenured or tenure-track -- a proportion so small that acacemic freedom will be seriously jeopardized.

Does this sound so unbelievably bleak as to be, well, just unbelievable? I honestly don't think so. Forget about the Ivy League and the elite small liberal arts colleges and the top tier Research Is. These schools are almost certainly not going to adjunctify to the point where full-time faculty are outnumbered by part-timers (which is not to say that they won't continue to rely on underpaid adjuncts): their prestige is at stake, and we can safely assume that they will continue to employ a faculty composed of more full-time tenurable than of part-time nontenurable faculty members. But elite schools are not representative of most institutions of higher learning in this country. Or, to put it another way, most faculty do not work at elite schools. And if current trends continue, I actually don't think it's incredible to imagine that in twenty years' time, part-timers will vastly outnumber full-timers at many, and perhaps most, 4-year colleges and universities (a situation that already obtains at many [perhaps most?] community colleges).

Thus, for me CAUT's argument that the tenurable find common cause with the nontenurable makes perfect sense:

Tenured and tenure-track staff face a stark choice: help win salary, working conditions and other rights comparable to their own for contract academic staff or watch their own situation gradually decline to that suffered by their contract colleagues.

This gets to the heart of my objection to the notion that adjunct unionization is the answer to the problem of adjunctification. Frankly, at the moment I am inclined to view adjunct unionization as a hopeless cause. First, in practical terms, it is incredibly difficult to organize contingent workers in any sector. I can't imagine that adjunct unionization campaigns could ever succeed at more than a handful of institutions in the urban areas of the more liberal states. Second, even where adjuncts did successfully unionize, precisely because they would form a body separate from that of the tenurable, any increase in the bargaining power of adjuncts would be perceived as a threat by full-time tenure-track and tenured faculty.

The only real hope, I believe, lies in a concerted effort by and for all faculty to end the ongoing transformation of full-time salaried positions into part-time contract positions. I'm not suggesting that unionization is the only possible form that such a concerted effort might take. I am suggesting, however, that unless and until full-time faculty realize that casualization is something that is happening to their own profession and at their own institutions (instead of seeing it as something that is happening to those others -- i.e., to those unfortunates or unworthies who should either be pitied or scorned), the cause is sunk.


My pessimism over the possibility and potential of adjunct unionization should not be interpreted as an optimism concerning the likelihood that the tenured and the nontenured will make common cause.

In the comments to Patricians versus Plebeians, Random Reader suggests that the tenured will not interest themselves in the future of the profession because they are primarily motivated by narrow self-interest:

IA speaks of a 'need' for tenured faculty to align with non-tenured, in order to prevent further erosion of tenure. But that's primarily an erosion in the future, via the elimination of existing tenure slots, upon the retirement of the incumbent, with non-tenure slots. In most places, the administration is eliminating the tenured via attrition. Ergo, the incumbents are safe. What is their self-interest in organizing to help posterity (i.e., future tt faculty)? Not much, I'd say. In fact, as the tenured faculty look at the trends in the labor force in general, with increased use of part-time/temporary workers, they would have good reason to suspect that their days are numbered, and that they should devote their own efforts to preserving their own privileges--while expecting those privileges to die with them. That's what's happening everywhere else. There's no reason to think that the academy will be any different.

I want to believe that this represents far too jaundiced a view of tenured faculty. But I have to admit that I have occasionally entertained suspicions that such a depiction is an all-too-accurate representation. I invite readers to help me banish such unhappy suspicions (though feel free to help confirm them, if confirm them you must).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:23 PM | Comments (10)

August 04, 2003

PhD Island?

Bob at Unfogged has an idea for a new reality tv show called "PhD Island". So confident is he of its success that he is already planning the "equally cutthroat sequel, 'Tenure Island'" and is even looking forward to "Lots of Big Grants Island," "Full Professor Island," "More Prestigious Institution Island," and "Avoiding Intellectual Stagnation Island." The contest rules sound even more daunting than the now-standard practice of being judged by a jury of one's students: "To win, each preens and performs before panels of disdainful judges whose own talents are ambiguous but unchallenged." As we learned last week, students give higher evaluations to better-looking faculty; I think we can safely assume that any panel of disdainful judges would be inclined to do the same. The real question (which I raised in "Adjunct Survivor: Big City"): Are there enough academics with enough of the right kind of sex appeal to keep viewers glued to the set?


In the comments to this entry, KF of Planned Obsolescence posts a brilliant scheme for a television show modelled after "Fifth Wheel":

I'm kind of thinking of an academic version of 'Fifth Wheel' -- two recent PhDs and two search committees meet up for interviews and a drunken ride around town in a weird disco bus. After the first segment, the PhDs switch search committees; after the second segment, each candidate (and committee) confides in the audience about how they think it's going. Then, in the third segment, the 'fifth wheel' is introduced, an academic hottie of massive proportions. Will it be a recent Yale PhD with a Cambridge UP book contract, seeking to lure the attentions of both search committees? Or will it be a third search committee from a well-heeled Major U., seeking to poach the other committees' candidates? And who goes home alone?
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:21 PM | Comments (11)

Patricians versus Plebeians: the Faculty Senate

Patricians versus plebeians; nobles versus commoners; touchables versus untouchables; the quality versus the riff-raff. Call the division what you will. It's my belief that the line dividing the tenurable from the untenurable is hardening.

In an article entitled Faculty Senates: The Last Bastion of Patrician Privilege, Christopher Cumo reports on the resistance of full-time faculty to the idea of sharing governance with part-time faculty -- even (or perhaps we should say especially?) where, as is the case at Santa Rosa Junior College, the 320 full-time faculty members are greatly outnumbered by 1100 part-time faculty members. What these full-timers fear, apparently, is that part-timers might vote for the an end to tenure.

"The anxiety over tenure seems ubiquitous at Drexel [University]," where, writes Cumo, Senate member and Associate Professor of Visual Studies Brian L. Wagner "fears the hordes of part-time faculty who, if seated on the Senate, might trample tenure underfoot." Similarly, Eldon D. Wedlock, Jr., Faculty Senate Chair between 1997 and 1999 and a professor of Law at the University of South Carolina, says that "faculty fear being overrun by 'the unwashed masses.'" And Paul H. Gates, Chairman of the Faculty Senate and associate professor of communications at Appalachian State University, fears that "part-time faculty, should they gain seats on the Senate, would vote their 'self-interest' rather than for policies best for the university." One wonders, Cumo adds, "how full-time faculty who fight to exclude adjuncts from the Senate are not acting in self-interest." One also wonders, I would add, who voted for the employment policies that resulted in so many part-timers on staff that the full-timers now view them as a threat -- and in whose interest were they voting? (or, if they didn't actually vote for or against such policies, then what on earth do they mean by "governance"?)

Steven Powell, Chair of the Faculty Senate and an associate professor of Performing Arts at Drexel University, admits that some full-time faculty hurl the epithet "riff-raff" at adjuncts. But "'no tenure-track faculty member,'" he asserts, "'would tolerate having an adjunct making decisions about the tenure process.'" Powell performs the role of a latter-day Pericles when he justifies the exclusion of adjunct faculty from the Senate on the grounds of citizenship: only “citizens” can participate in governance, Powell claims, not “visitors for a term or two.” This suggests an angle on adjunctification that I had yet to consider: the adjunct as metic. Though as I understand it, at least some of the metics were far better off.

Of course, Powell's justification for adjunct exclusion does have at least a surface plausibility: who would deny that "visitors for a term or two" should be ineligible to sit on the Faculty Senate? But are most part-time faculty at his institution really just "visiting" for a term or two? If so, I have to wonder what the Senate has been up to in the past decade or so. If the faculty composition at Drexel has reached the point where the full-time faculty are so outnumbered by "visitors" that they now fear for their own jobs, I should think the Faculty Senate might want to make it an urgent priority to reform this system.

Meanwhile, Joan Williamson, past President of the Faculty Senate and a clinical professor of Nursing at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, strikes a Victorian note with her belief that "adjuncts do not need their own representation on the Senate. They need only share their concerns with a senator who will voice them to the full Senate." Now, that sounds rather paternalistic -- or should I say maternalistic? Indeed, it sounds remarkably like James Mill's arguments against female suffrage -- women did not need the vote, he argued, because their interests would be voiced by their husbands. His son thought differently, though. Perhaps Williamson should take a peek at John Stuart Mill's Subjection of Women?

Also of interest, given our previous discussion of whether academic jobseekers resemble a Calvinist congregation, is the definition of "academic Calvinism" provided by Nora Bacon, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a member of the Faculty Senate: “'I think the full-time faculty like to think that they’re better, smarter, generally more worthy than the part-timers—sort of a Calvinist faith that their own privilege must be deserved, with the corollary that those without privilege must be undeserving.''” One proposal mentioned in the article is to base eligibility for the Senate on publications: "say, a book or four peer-reviewed articles in the last two years with the proviso that a senate admit all part-time faculty who satisfy these standards and exclude all full-time faculty who fall short." Though, as Cumo notes, "faculty senators who do not want the tally of books and articles to shatter their Calvinist hubris might do better to quietly admit part-time faculty."

As I've suggested many times at this weblog (and most recently here), I don't see any real hope for reform unless and until full-time tenured faculty start to view part-time faculty as members of the same profession rather than as outsiders to the profession. I don't know how representative are the full-time faculty cited in this article, but certainly Cumo's piece does not inspire optimism on this score.

Someone should do a sociological study of hierarchy and status maintenance in today's academy. Well, perhaps somebody already has? but if so, is the study up-to-date? It would be interesting to see something that takes into account the dramatic increase in part-time at the expense of full-time positions over the past decade, and the growing gap between the two tiers.


Stephen Karlson thinks I am envisioning a senate "in which all full-time, tenure-track faculty members are ex officio faculty senators." Not at all. What is in dispute at the institutions treated in Cumo's article is the eligibility of faculty (or, in the case the adjuncts, the lack of eligibility) to be voted into office.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:00 AM | Comments (28)

August 03, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to sappho for an insightful caution against adjunct unionization (comments to Adjunct Unionization):

A separate adjunct union (and for that matter separate TA unions) strike me as misunderstanding where unions get at least some of their power. In order to provide real benefits (and solidarity etc) adjuncts and TAs need to belong to the same union as full time faculty--unless/until tenured/tenure track faculty recognize that all members of the profession need to be represented, none of these three sectors will have real and adequate unionization. The analogy is easiest to make between TAs and tenure/tenure track faculty, since there already exists the model of apprentice and journeyman members of unions. But, for many reasons, unionizing faculty is difficult, and for some of the same reasons, if adjuncts unionize, they increase the separatation from the 'real' members of the profession.

Well said, sappho. This is a tricky topic, and it's difficult to raise these concerns without fear of lending support to those who oppose a better deal for adjunct faculty. But while I certainly believe that unionized adjuncts would receive better pay and perhaps some benefits, and while I am certainly not prepared to argue against adjunct unionization, I think sappho has pointed to a major weakness of separate unions.

As I said in the original entry, the danger, as I see it, is that separate unions for adjunct faculty would formalize and confer legitimacy on the existence of a permanent academic underclass. Indeed, though university administrations generally (or I suppose, universally) oppose adjunct unionization, in the long term unionization might actually help them in their cost-cutting goal of reducing faculty to near-penury: that is, it might enable them to convert even more full-time positions into part-time contracts while at the same time neutralizing criticism of adjunctification ("our part-timers are treated very well, they have collective bargaining rights"). This is not an argument for the status quo, but rather an argument for the involvement of full-time faculty in the improvement of conditions for all faculty.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:00 PM | Comments (8)